Category Archives: Other waterways

Bull trout in Elwha River given temporary refuge

As demolition time draws near for the two Elwha River dams, 82 bull trout were recently captured in the middle portion of the river and moved upstream out of harm’s way.

Bull Trout / Photo: Olympic National Park

Scientists used their skills with hook-and-line fishing as well as the more direct electroshock treatment to take adults and juveniles from waters in and around Lake Mills at the upper Glines Canyon Dam, as well as from the section of the river between the two dams.

The bull trout averaged 14 inches long, and some were as big as 24 inches.

The fish were held in net pens in Lake Mills for up to 10 days. They were measured and sampled for genetic characteristics. Radio transmitters were implanted in 31 fish to track their movements. Then they were transported by helicopter to two locations upstream, one near Elkhorn Ranger Station and the other at the mouth of Hayes River.

The protective action is considered important, because removal of the Elwha and Glines Canyon dams is likely to dislodge an estimated 24 million cubic yards of sediment that has collected behind the dams since they were built, according to estimates by the Bureau of Reclamation. Most of that sediment will come from a delta at the south end of Lake Mills. Bull trout caught in the sediment-laden river probably will not do well, researchers say.

“Using the best available science, we’ve taken steps to protect the bull trout population and given them immediate access to high-quality, pristine habitats in the upper river through this relocation project,” said Sam Brenkman, fisheries biologist for Olympic National Park.

According to the “Bull Trout Protection and Restoration Plan” (PDF 1.6 mb), turbidity will exceed 1,000 parts per million for extended periods and may periodically exceed 10,000 ppm.

Even at 50 to 100 ppm, bull trout may stop feeding, suffer from gill abrasion and experience stress that can reduce their fitness. Greater levels of turbidity can lead to reduced health and possible death.

Bull trout were moved by helicopter to the upper Elwha River. / Photo: Olympic National Park

It was assumed for planning purposes that fish remaining in the river would die. That’s why a priority was placed on maintaining access to high-quality areas upstream as well as tributaries and off-channel areas that can serve as refugia from the murky waters.

In addition, the demolition schedule includes “fish windows” when construction will cease and the river will clear up to a safer level, allowing for salmon and trout to migrate and spawn. These fish windows are scheduled for November-December to aid coho and chum migration into the Elwha; May-June for hatchery out-migration and steelhead in-migration; and Aug. 1-Sept. 14 for chinook and pink salmon in-migration.

Bull trout were listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 1999. Over the past five years, fisheries biologists have surveyed the river to find out where the fish hang out, tracked them with radio telemetry and conducted genetic studies to understand their population dynamics.

Based on this work, researchers estimate the adult bull trout population at less than 400 fish, less than 3 percent of the entire Elwha River fish community. Between 60 and 69 percent are found downstream of Rica Canyon, which lies just above Lake Mills.

Moving the fish upstream will allow them to find the most suitable habitat following dam removal. A unique characteristic of bull trout is that some individuals in a given population may migrate to the ocean, while others stay in freshwater their entire lives. Some may move into tributaries or lakes, while others prefer the main river.

Biologists believe bull trout once occupied the entire Elwha River system before the first dam was built in 1910. Following dam removal, the landlocked population above the dams will be able to move all the way downstream. The anadromous population that can’t get above the Elwha Dam will be able to utilize the entire watershed.

The relocation effort fulfills a requirement of a 2000 revision to the 1996 biological opinion for bull trout by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

“We are pleased that we met our objectives,” said Pat Crain, fisheries biologist for Olympic National Park. “And this project, designed to protect a threatened species, would not have been possible without close collaboration among the various agencies.

“During two weeks of field work, more than 20 biologists — from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Geological Survey, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, and Student Conservation Association — assisted with and monitored the capture and relocation effort.”

The relocation work was completed June 17.

Other projects that should help bull trout include a culvert replacement on Griff Creek, a middle tributary of the Elwha, and an evaluation of the competition that occurs with nonnative brook trout.

If you’d like to read more about the Elwha Dam removal, check out the story I wrote for the Kitsap Sun Sept. 4, 2010, or visit Olympic National Park’s “Bull Trout” page.

The tagging of captured bull trout took place on Lake Mills. / NPS photo by John Gussman

Habitat-funding formula is sacred among supporters

Like a dark cloud, a fear of politics hangs over a program that allocates state money for projects that protect fish and wildlife habitat, build parks and trails and preserve farmland. Check out my story in yesterday’s Kitsap Sun, which relates methods of funding to a Bainbridge Island trails project.

A bit of history is needed to understand the controversy. In 1989, two prominent politicians, Republican Dan Evans and Democrat Mike Lowry, joined forces to create the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Coalition. The idea was to attract both government and private money to the best projects of their kind in the state.

The following year, the Legislature created a funding structure called the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program. The strength of the program, according to many supporters, is the enduring formula for allocating state dollars, first by category (PDF 12 kb), then by project through detailed evaluation criteria.

Because of the established criteria, the Legislature has avoided fights over whether to fund particular projects. Instead, the Legislature sets the statewide budget for the program, and expert committees score the projects based on established criteria.

On the 20th anniversary of the program in 2009, an editorial in the Seattle Times noted that some people doubted that the political marriage of this “odd couple” — Evans and Lowry — would last for the long run, but so far it has:

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Hanford’s story can be told in different ways

Cleaning up nuclear waste at the Hanford reservation in Eastern Washington is one of this state’s most critical and vexing environmental problems. The site is so dangerous to the people and environment along the Columbia River that every Washington resident ought to keep an eye on the progress.

“The contaminants out there are so dangerous and so long-lived… We should be absolutely insisting that the federal government clean that site up, whatever the cost,” Jay Manning told me three years ago.

Manning was the director of the Department of Ecology when I interviewed him about the state’s top environmental problems. See Kitsap Sun, Feb. 16, 2008. He has since become the governor’s chief of staff. See Water Ways, Oct. 5, 2009.

Since then, the federal government has poured billions into the project, including a significant boost of dollars with the economic stimulus package. Now that effort is being pared back, with a significant loss of jobs, as Annette Cary reports in the Tri-City Herald.

Converting huge amounts of nuclear waste into a safer form is a difficult technological and logistical problem, as reporter Craig Welch points out in a pair Seattle Times stories published Jan. 22 and Jan. 23.

These stories bring you into the meat of the problem. But I have to say that I was equally impressed by a short piece I heard last night on KUOW radio. Reporter Anna King helps us understand the nature of problem from the perspective of people who have made a career out of cleaning up Hanford’s waste. These grizzled employees have learned from years of experience, and are now about to turn over their projects to a new generation. The newcomers will learn to navigate the minefields of nuclear risk — but they, too, may be retired before the job is done. Quoting from her piece:
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Amusing Monday: python versus alligator

Here’s another battle between species. In November on Water Ways, I repeated a “dramatic” video showing a life-or-death fight between a shark and an octopus. The video was filmed at the Seattle Aquarium and was produced by National Geographic.
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Watch the full episode. See more Nature.

This time, the fight (actually a double billing) is between an alligator and a python in the Florida Everglades, where Burmese pythons are not native but have grown to incredible numbers in recent years. So which animal is the king of the swamp? Left to their own battles, will the alligator survive or will the python become the dominant predator?

This video, taken from a Nature program last year on PBS, shows that individual battles between an alligator and a python depend on the size of the individuals.

The program describes research in which pythons have been found to eat a wide variety of mammals, birds and reptiles. Because the invasive pythons could wipe out endangered species, a serious effort is under way to keep them out of the Florida Keys, where they have not yet established a comfortable home. The invasion is a serious, but interesting, challenge. I can recommend the entire 50-minute episode if you have not seen it.

Logo aims to capture magnitude of Elwha project

The new logo for the Elwha dam removal and river restoration was unveiled tonight along with the tagline, “Natural Wonders Never Cease.”

The new logo was designed by Laurel Black Design of Port Angeles. The tagline was created by New Path Marketing of Sammamish.

A news release from Olympic National Park says the logo was designed to represent “the magnitude and importance of the Elwha River Restoration project, which includes the largest dam removal in U.S. history and will restore the river’s salmon populations from 3,000 to nearly 400,000.”

“This is an environmental and cultural restoration project that has already attracted national and international attention – and it’s right here in our backyard,” remarked Park Superintendent Karen Gustin.

The Elwha River Restoration page contains links to short descriptions as well as photos, documents, history and frequently asked questions.

If you’d like to check out my latest stories on the project, go to:

Elwha Project Expected to Blast Open Nature’s Door to Bountiful Fish Runs

Elwha Restoration: Bringing Back Habitats and Culture

Elwha Restoration: Where Will 400,000 Young Plants Find a Place to Live?

Elwha Restoration: Will We See the Legendary 100-Pound Chinook?

Amusing Monday: Google goes beyond the streets

Last week, Google announced a new “Street View” from Antarctica, a seemingly remote and desolate place. Is there nowhere left to hide?

Two new Street Views allow you a glimpse of a colony of penguins as well as a scenic vista of Half Moon Island, one of the Shetland Islands in the Southern Ocean.

Penguins on Half Moon Island, from Google Street View

Now, Street View images are available on all seven continents, bragged Brian McClendon, vice president of engineering for Google Earth and Maps.

Several bloggers were quick to point out that Antarctica has no streets to view, so the name is completely out of context.
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Anticipation is running high for Elwha dams removal

Studies about the future of the Elwha River, which snakes up into Olympic National Park, have been going on for more than 20 years. Now that dam removal is about a year away, excitement is reaching new heights.

Glines Canyon Dam is the larger of the two dams to be removed on the Elwha River.
Photo courtesy of National Park Service

I thought that this would be a good time to discuss the restoration of the river and reservoirs behind the two dams. How will the natural environment change? What kinds of plants will take over? And what will be the future of salmon and steelhead that have hung on in the lower river all these years?

These are subjects I touched on in a series of articles published in Sunday’s Kitsap Sun. In one piece, I also mentioned the special cultural significance of the Elwha River to the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe.

What I did not cover in this reporting project was the old debate about whether the two dams should be removed. At $350 million, it’s an expensive project, and some people are convinced that it is not worthwhile. Costs of protecting water quality for the city of Port Angeles and replacing the power for the paper mill are part of the public expense. But these issues were decided long ago.

My intention in these articles was to show what could be expected as the dams come down and the restoration moves into the key areas behind the reservoirs.

Read my stories by clicking on the following:

Elwha Project Expected to Blast Open Nature’s Door to Bountiful Fish Runs

Elwha Restoration: Where Will 400,000 Young Plants Find a Place to Live?

Elwha Restoration: Will We See the Legendary 100-Pound Chinook?

Elwha Restoration: Bringing Back Habitats and Culture

Rebuilding specific stocks of salmon, steelhead and trout, along with dam-removal process

For general information with links to related studies, visit the Elwha Watershed Information Resource, developed by the University of Idaho through a cooperative agreement with the NOAA Coastal Services Center and in partnership with the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe, Peninsula College and Western Washington University.

Also check out the Elwha page on Olympic National Park’s website, where another page lists studies and other documents.

Estuary grants will aid Chico Creek and more

I’ve written lots of stories about replacing culverts to improve salmon passage, but a $600,000 grant to the Suquamish Tribe will be used to remove a culvert and fully open up the estuary at the mouth of Chico Creek.

This culvert on Chico Creek is scheduled for removal. Here, Suquamish Fisheries Manager Jay Zischke and the tribe's environmental biologist Tom Ostrom survey the scene.
Photo courtesy of Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission

The Chico Creek grant was among some $30 million in grants announced Tuesday by the Environmental Protection Agency as part of the Puget Sound Estuary Program. I wrote about the grants and quoted involved officials in a story published in yesterday’s Kitsap Sun. I’ll cover the other Puget Sound projects here after talking about the one on Chico Creek.

Most roads that follow a shoreline in the Puget Sound region go somewhere important, but Kittyhawk Drive is a dead-end. After crossing Chico Creek, the road serves only three homes, if I recall correctly.

After the stream flows through a culvert under Highway 3, it passes beneath Kittyhawk Drive with enough force to blow out some of the large rocks planted there to help salmon make it upstream. Removing the culvert will improve the estuary and help with the fish-passage problem at that location, but the project needs to address a change in elevation to get up to the freeway culvert.

The freeway culvert is another obstacle of concern. Local officials are working with the Washington Department of Transportation to find a way to replace that freeway culvert with a bridge. Needless to say, the cost will be enormous.

Another Chico Creek culvert destined for replacement is the one under Golf Club Road, just upstream from Kitsap Golf and Country Club. That culvert replacement is part of an extensive restoration of the stream channel where if flows through the golf course.

Yes, all this sounds like a lot of expense for one salmon stream, but biologists will tell you that Chico Creek supports the largest chum salmon run on the Kitsap Peninsula and provides a decent run of coho and potentially other species. Once the migrating adult salmon make it through the culverts near the mouth of the stream, they have good spawning habitat upstream in the Chico Creek watershed. Tributaries include Kitsap Creek, which flows out of Kitsap Lake; Wildcat Creek, which flows out of Wildcat Lake; and Dickerson Creek, which originates within a vast undeveloped forestland.

Exactly when we’ll see the culvert under Kittyhawk Drive removed remains uncertain. First, a new driveway must be built for residents on the far side of the culvert. I’m told there is still some design work to be done before contracts can go out to bid, and construction must be scheduled around the salmon migrations.

Other projects approved for funding:
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Blowout survivor’s dramatic tale offers new details

Sunday’s “60 Minutes” program revealed a lot to me about the blowout on the Deepwater Horizon oil-drilling platform in the Gulf of Mexico.

On the technical side, survivor Mike Williams describes a series of human errors in operation and judgment that may have caused the blowout. On the human side, Williams’ dramatic account of his narrow escape from death is riveting.

If you haven’t seen the program, I suggest you go to the website for “Blowout: The Deepwater Horizon Disaster” and play the video segments along the left side of the page. If you have seen the program, the “extras” may interest you. I know I was wondering what happened to the young woman who Williams told to jump from the rig as fire enveloped them. Her fate was not described on television, but her rescue is explained in the “extras.”

I would not be surprised if a movie producer is already scrambling for the right to tell Williams’ story, but that’s another matter.

The imbedded video here is Part 2, which begins with Williams’ escape from the oil rig, then launches into a discussion about the possible cause of the blowout. Reporter Scott Pelley’s explanation, with graphics, puts things in simple terms — including how the blowout preventer may have become damaged during operations, how backup control equipment went unrepaired, and how decisions about managing well pressure during shutdown may have led to the fiery gusher.

I have to remind myself that we have not seen a report of the investigation, though one is under way by the Coast Guard and Mineral Management Service. Over the weekend, President Obama apparently decided to create a commission to look into the incident as well, according to ABC News. and the Associated Press.

At this point, we don’t even have a complete response or description from BP managers who operated the drilling rig. So I will be cautious in drawing conclusions, but it is becoming clear that company personnel made not one but a series of fatal errors likely to be described in detail before this incident is put to rest.

Is it time to watch Chesapeake Bay for solutions?

After years of struggle and failure to reverse the decline of Chesapeake Bay’s rich ecosystem, the Obama administration this morning announced a new federal strategy for restoring the bay to health.

I believe it will be important for us in the Puget Sound region to pay attention to this strategy, as we also observe our own Puget Sound Partnership struggling to accomplish similar goals in our region.

The new “Strategy for Protecting and Restoring the Chesapeake Bay Watershed” appears to focus the regulatory weight of the federal government onto a restoration problem that a multitude of states has been unable to accomplish together. A news release from the Environmental Protection Agency puts it this way:

“The strategy includes using rigorous regulations to restore clean water, implementing new conservation practices on 4 million acres of farms, conserving 2 million acres of undeveloped land and rebuilding oysters in 20 tributaries of the bay.

“To increase accountability, federal agencies will establish milestones every two years for actions to make progress toward measurable environmental goals. These will support and complement the states’ two-year milestones.”

Last year, out of frustration, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation sued the Environmental Protection Agency for failing to enforce provisions of the Clean Water Act that would improve the bay’s water quality and help the ecosystem. Yesterday, the CBF dropped the lawsuit on a promise that the EPA will ensure that improvements are made on a strict schedule.

In many ways, the strategy appears to mirror philosophies found in the legislation creating the Puget Sound Partnership — including science-based priorities, measured progress and accountability.

One idea from the Chesapeake strategy: “Greater transparency and integration of federal, state and local actions will be greatly enhanced through ChesapeakeStat, a web-based tool designed to provide performance data and information in a format that allows a range of audiences to understand the work being done in the Chesapeake watershed.”

The new federal strategy recognizes the need to continue existing efforts and to focus on other short-term actions by local governments and nonprofit organizations. It also includes a focus on jobs, including agriculture, fishing and conservation. And, as with the Puget Sound Partnership, a strong effort will be made to focus dollars and resources where it will do the most good.

Here are some comments from federal officials taken from the news release:
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